How Supernova Shockwaves Change a Nebula’s Shape

Article written: 16 Feb , 2006

Supernova remnants of Puppis A. Image credit: Chandra. Click to enlarge
The Chandra three-color image (inset) of a region of the supernova remnant Puppis A (wide-angle view from ROSAT in blue) reveals a cloud being torn apart by a shock wave produced in a supernova explosion. This is the first X-ray identification of such a process in an advanced phase. In the inset, the blue vertical bar and the blue fuzzy ball or cap to the right show how the cloud has been spread out into an oval-shaped structure that is almost empty in the center. The Chandra data also provides information on the temperature in and around the cloud, with blue representing higher temperature gas.

The oval structure strongly resembles those seen on much smaller size scales in experimental simulations of the interaction of supernova shock waves with dense interstellar clouds. In these experiments, a strong shock wave sweeps over a vaporized copper ball that has a diameter roughly equal to a human hair. The cloud is compressed, and then expands in about 40 nanoseconds to form an oval bar and cap structure much like that seen in Puppis A.

On a cosmic scale, the disruption of l0-light-year-diameter cloud in Puppis A took a few thousand years. Despite the vast difference in scale, the experimental structures and those observed by Chandra are remarkably similar. The similarity gives astrophysicists insight into the interaction of supernova shock waves with interstellar clouds.

Understanding this process is important for answering key questions such as the role supernovas play in heating interstellar gas and triggering the collapse of large interstellar clouds to form new generations of stars.

Original Source: Chandra X-ray Observatory

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